How viable is nuclear power? Marijuana laws considered, Toughening animal abuse laws: Iowa Capitol Digest, Feb. 1

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

NUCLEAR POWER VIABILITY: An Eastern Iowa lawmaker warned of a “nightmare” if the Duane Arnold Energy Center, Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, would close.

The future of the Palo plant, which is in his district, is in jeopardy because it does not have a long-term contract to sell electricity, said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan.

Florida-based NextEra Energy does not believe the plant’s main customer, Alliant Energy, will renew its contract, which expires in 2025.

Recalling that DAEC was producing the only available electricity during the 2008 flood in Cedar Rapid, Zumbach called for “diversity in generation.”

He encouraged Alliant, Cornbelt Power and CIPCO, which buy electricity from the nuclear plant, to work together with NextEra “to keep the plant viable.”

The loss of DAEC would be “staggering,” Zumbach said, because of its 600 jobs and the taxes it pays.

MEDICAL CANNABIS ADVANCES: A Senate panel advanced legislation that would authorize the state’s medical cannabidiol board to make changes to the state’s medical cannabis program without legislative approval.

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The board can make recommendations regarding which ailments are covered by the law and how much of the addictive chemical may be present in the medical product, but any changes must be approved by the Iowa Legislature and governor. The bill advanced Thursday would give the board that authority without needing legislative approval.

Two Republican and one Democratic senator approved the bill, which now goes before the full committee.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, one of the members to approve the bill, has another bill that would give physicians the authority to prescribe medical cannabidiol for ailments not included in the present law. Zaun said he hopes to have a hearing on that bill next week.

MARIJUANA POSSESSION: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve separate bills that would lower the penalty for marijuana possession.

Senators voted to approve Senate File 432, which would change Iowa law so that possession of 5 grams or less of marijuana would be a simple misdemeanor punishable by no more than 30 days in jail and/or by a fine between $65 and $620. Currently, first-offense possession of marijuana is a serious misdemeanor punishable by confinement for not more than six months and/or a fine of not more than $1,000.

ANIMAL ABUSE: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-4 to approve Senate File 421, a measure that would toughen penalties for mistreating or abusing animals other than livestock or wild animals.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said Iowa ranks low nationally in protecting domestic animals or pets and some recent high-profile incidents in which animals were abused and mistreated has heightened support for legislation action.

Four majority Republicans opposed the measure, but five Democrats and three GOP senators voted to forward the bill to the Senate debate calendar.

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WATER QUALITY: Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, has introduced legislation to create an Iowa Water Commission to lead water protection efforts.

Senate File 2161 would provide a 15-year framework to clean up Iowa’s water and safeguard against flood and drought damage across the state.

In addition, Hogg’s bill includes adoption of statewide nutrient reduction goals and timetables including 20 percent reduction by 2024, 32 percent by 2028, and 45 percent by 2033.

It also calls for a comprehensive statewide water and drought monitoring program, annual water quality reporting and annual water plan updates, and funding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Iowa Flood Mitigation Program established in 2012.

JUDICIAL CHANGE: A group of Senate Republicans is looking to make a significant change to Iowa’s court system.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, who was joined by 20 co-sponsors, is pushing legislation requiring that at least five justices of the Iowa Supreme Court would have to concur to hold a state law unconstitutional.

Now, only four justices need to concur.

“ There are a number of cases where, by a 4-3 decision, the court has essentially amended the Constitution,” Garrett said. “This bill simply increases the number of justices required to rule a law unconstitutional, and protects the will of the people as expressed through their elected legislators and the governor.”

Garrett said a number of the cases he cited involve “search and seizure” issues, and cases involving minimum sentences of juveniles who have committed felonies, including murder. He said Nebraska has a similar provision in its Constitution.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When we lower the standards of the state and allow the state to kill people, that makes all less safe. When the state begins to kill offenders, we will inevitably kill the wrong person.” — Former Iowa women’s prison chaplain Kay Kopatich to a House Public Safety subcommittee considering a death penalty bill.

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